Opposition to the gas deal between Jordan and Israel is not going to go away; in fact, it is growing daily across all sectors of Jordanian society, including those close to the authorities. The agreement is due to begin in 2017 and last for 15 years. Jordan’s parliamentarians have said no to it, as have the unions; parties on all sides have rejected it and women’s, youth and student organisations have said that they will not buy Israeli gas. Retired military personnel have also expressed their opposition along with some senators appointed by the king and former government leaders. Social media campaigns liken the purchase of Israeli gas to being part of the occupation of Palestine, as have public demonstrations.
In this sense, if nothing else, the gas agreement with Israel is reviving Jordanian political activism, which has weakened noticeably of late. It looks set to get people back onto the streets as the degree of rejection of such blatant normalisation with Israel becomes more obvious.
In private, questions are being asked about why Jordan has signed this deal with Israel and not, for example, Qatar or Algeria; or even Egypt, which hasn’t sold gas to the Jordanians since 2011 due to the security situation in Sinai. People are also asking why there is a rush to sign a Memorandum of Understanding for importing gas from 2017; and why is the agreement to last for 15 years?
Only the Jordanian government is defending the agreement, which it regards as a lifeline and a solution to the energy crisis Jordan has been suffering from for years. Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Nsour and his ministers believe that it is in the country’s interest to look for alternative sources given that the unavailability of Egyptian gas has cost Jordan billions of dollars and placed a heavy burden on ordinary Jordanians. The people’s representatives in parliament, however, argue that “free people do not sell out”.
According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has been working on a strategy of economic links between Israel and its neighbours. Relations built on energy sources can, believes Washington, enhance the fragile peace between Israel and Jordan, while also offering Europe an alternative to Russia for gas supplies.
Both John Kerry and his predecessor as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, have pushed Jordan towards the deal with Israel. Official negotiations have now started with America’s Noble Energy Company, which has signed a letter of intent with Jordan’s National Electric Company; the deal is worth $15 billion, for Israel to supply 45 billion cubic metres of natural gas from the Leviathan field in the Mediterranean. The government in Amman acknowledges that it intends to sign the agreement but stresses that so far only a letter of intent has been signed, and that with Noble Energy, not the Israelis.
Minister of Energy Mohamed Hamed has told critics of the deal that it will save Jordan $1.5 billion a year. His opponents claim that he has not told parliament all of the details, some of which have been revealed by Israel’s “The Marker” economics newspaper. Hamed insists, though, that the financial losses incurred by National Electric cannot be sustained and production costs must be reduced. He argues that buying from an American company, Noble Energy, does not threaten Jordan’s future or make the economy a hostage to any country.
As soon as information about the deal and the signed letter of intent was leaked, Jordanian activists started their campaign, which pushed parliamentarians to call for a public hearing to discuss the issue. When this took place, 108 parliamentarians, out of 150 members of the council, spoke; 95 expressed their rejection of the deal with “the Israeli enemy which kills Palestinian Arab people every day.” They also refused to accept what they called coercion by the government to get the Jordanian people to normalise with the “occupation state”.
A recent demonstration called for by leftist and nationalist parties was held in Amman during which participants called upon the House of Representatives to carry out its constitutional role by withdrawing confidence from the government if it insists on signing the agreement. Recommendations of the council should, insisted the House, be mandatory and taken seriously by the government, which they are not at the moment. Higher prices will be tolerated in exchange for national dignity, members argued.
The prime minister told parliamentarians that he and his colleagues have a “sense of responsibility” which “compels” them to look for ways to meet the people’s needs. “This orders us to work hard for the service of the people,” he insisted. “Under no circumstances would we fall into any historical error.” He added that he was hurt by some of the criticism. “We are not collaborators with anyone, or any country, whether an occupier or a non-occupier, and our patriotism is well-known and recorded, and our decision may be right or wrong, but what brings us together is trust, and the attempt to serve our country and people.”
Members of the House of Representatives read in Al-Nsour’s response a determination to go all the way in signing the agreement, which led some to issue a petition withholding confidence in the government. Others threatened to resign, including a number of parliamentarians close to the decision-makers.
The resignation threat coincided with the House of Representatives sending a letter to King Abdullah II to explain the members’ position and to update the monarch about what is happening. As the opposition to the gas deal continues to grow, Jordan faces an unprecedented and very difficult period of political activity.
Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 21 December 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.